Chapter 303

“Did you hear? The Gold King of the South joined hands with the Giovanni Chamber of Commerce to start a transportation business.”

“What? Is that really true?”

“I’ve heard as well. The Gold King will be responsible for the transportation and security, while Dos Giovanni will be the guarantee and take care of insurance.”

“Huh!”

“That is not all. Apparently, almost all of the businesses under the Mandy Association will be moving to York Town.”

“W, what did you say?”

The inns and pubs of York Town were bustling with activity. Whenever three or more merchants gathered in such places, the conversations always shifted to the same topic. Those hearing the news for the first time could not hide their bewilderment.

Everyone already knew that Karl Mandy was in York Town. Rumors had it that he had arrived to send his daughter Iriya Mandy to be wed as the second wife of Duke Pendragon. One of the three richest families in the entire empire would become allied with one of the five favored duchies of the empire through the joyous occasion. Such a massive event was bound to have a huge impact on the imperial landscape, so everyone was paying keen attention.

However, the rumors that were now spreading throughout York Town far exceeded their initial expectations. As if moving the foundations of the Mandy Association to York Town wasn’t enough, the Gold King was joining hands with Dos Giovanni to advance into the transportation industry.

“Huh! This is a huge deal! The mercenaries of the mainland with connections to the big businesses won’t just sit around and watch. What do you think?”

“That may be true. But I heard Karl Mandy and Dos Giovanni are planning to drastically lower the prices to allow merchants like us to employ their services as well. Besides, the guards will be handpicked by the knights of the Pendragon Duchy.”

“Ohh!”

Everyone became elated at the news.

It was imperative to hire mercenaries to move safely through the vast empire. In particular, the process of hiring mercenaries was indispensable for nobles and merchants who only possessed a small amount of land and wealth. In addition, the merchants and nobles preferred hiring from large mercenary groups with reputation and trust, rather than hiring some nobodies.

Regular robbers and bandits would steer clear when they saw the flag of large mercenary groups. Hiring a dozen mercenaries from a renowned group would surely guarantee safety in most places of the empire. The problem, however, was that hiring such a large group from a renowned mercenary group would cost a fortune.

Naturally, it wasn’t a huge burden for wealthy nobles and merchants, but it was an arm and a leg for those who weren’t as wealthy. Therefore, it was common for small and medium-sized merchants to find other merchants with the same destination as them and collectively hire a number of decent mercenaries.

However, Karl Mandy and Dos Giovanni were planning to establish a transportation company that could be utilized by the small and medium-sized merchants.

Moreover, the trusted knights of the Pendragon Duchy would personally pick out the entourage. If the rumors were true, this was no longer a simple matter of trust.

“This is a big deal!”

“This is humongous!”

The small and medium-sized merchants could not hide their expectations and excitement. For them, securing safe transportation was as important as buying and selling goods.

“Information. I need more information!”

“Where are the Mandy Association’s people now?”

“I think you’d better head to the York Town’s official residence for now. We can probably learn something more there…”

As the merchants bolted out the doors of the pubs and inns, the buildings became much quieter.

“Go clean up.”

“Yes.”

The pub owner spoke in a quiet voice, and the errand boy started to diligently take away empty glasses and tidied up the tables. Gauging from the owner’s reaction, it appeared that this wasn’t the first time such things happened in York Town.

But not everyone had bolted out the doors. In one corner of the pub, a few merchants quietly tilted their beer glasses.

“This is no joke…”

“That’s what I’m saying. Those fools are excited at the thought of transporting goods at a lower price, but…”

They were the more prominent, wealthier merchants among the small and medium-sized merchants. They possessed a keener insight compared to those who rushed off to the official residence a while ago.

“The Gold King of the South is starting something? This means that the road from the South to the mainland, as well as the road from the mainland to the South, has now opened. The inland sea already belongs to the Pendragon Duchy and the 7th regiment.”

“That is right.”

In the aftermath of the expedition, most of the pirates operating in the inland sea had been wiped out. Those who claimed to be the divisional fleet of the Pendragon Duchy filled the vacancy in conjunction with the 7th regiment. This led to the revitalization of the inland sea trade.

Merchants from southern and foreign port cities, including El Pasa, were starting to cross the inland sea, carrying expensive items such as pepper, jewelry, and silk to the mainland ports. Leus was one of the prime destinations of the merchants.

Karl Mandy was becoming involved in the inland sea trade in earnest at a time like this. His involvement signaled a greater expansion and rejuvenation of the inland sea trade.

“A large number of nobles in the South have been bestowed titles by the emperor. All of them were involved in the coalition led by Duke Pendragon. Plus, the most important factor is the new rising force of the South. The most powerful, rising force of the South is…”

“The Kingdom of Valvas. And the Knight King of Valvas is Sir Elkin Isla of the Pendragon Duchy.”

“That’s right. In other words, the South is already in the palms of the imperial house and the Pendragon Duchy. At this point in time, Karl Mandy is relocating the association’s entire foundation and starting a transportation business with Giovanni…”

“The center of the empire’s commerce… It may well be reorganized around York Town and the Pendragon Duchy…”

“Hmm…!”

The faces of the merchants turned pale.

Then the other merchant, who had remained silent so far, cautiously spoke.

“I, I wouldn’t say it may well be. I think it’s guaranteed…”

“What do you mean?”

“Isn’t everyone forgetting about one important thing?”

“Hmm?”

Everyone was puzzled by the merchant’s words. The merchant answered their curiosity while wiping off the sweat running down his forehead with a handkerchief.

“The Pendragon Duchy doesn’t only have York Town. Everyone seems to have forgotten because of the expedition, but his official status in imperial politics is…”

“…..!”

Everyone’s eyes widened with realization.

That was right. Just as the merchant said, the Pendragon Duchy possessed more than York Town. The duke’s official title was…

“The Governor-General of Leus…”

Someone’s soft words caused everyone to shudder.

Valvas, El Pasa, York Town, and Leus.

The Pendragon Duchy had acquired four important vertices, covering the mainland and the South. Including their control over the inland sea, the politics and economy of an area equaling nearly half of the empire’s mainland were under the influence of a single family.

***

“I trust you with it.”

“DO not worry. Once the transportation business is sorted out, there will be nothing much to worry about. If anything, you will become busier, my lord.”

“All I have to do is follow your plan, isn’t that right?”

Raven grinned at Vincent’s words.

Vincent shook his head slightly.

“The lord was responsible for drawing the big picture. All I did was take care of the minute details. I was only thinking about opening a new trade route including the South and York Town, but the entire plan was devised from your words, my lord.”

Vincent meant what he said. In the first place, he had sworn fealty to Raven and become a knight of Pendragon for a simple reason. The South and the mainland were politically and economically isolated. By connecting the two places, he wanted the people of the empire to afford better lives.

But after meeting with Karl Mandy and Dos Giovanni a few days ago, Raven had spoken truly shocking words. Even Vincent himself, who had a reputation as the duchy’s brain, felt as if he was hit in the head with a hammer.

Raven had wondered if it would be possible to create a buffer zone by connecting York Town, Leus, El Passa, and Valvas. Raven had spoken such words because he had simply wondered if linking the areas under the influence of the duchy would bring about a positive effect after seeing the locations on a map. However, after hearing his words, a huge picture instantly came to Vincent’s mind.

A buffer zone consisting of the areas where politics, trade, currency, and military would work together. This was no different from the birth of a new empire within the empire. Furthermore, there was no reason for the Aragon family to be against the buffer zone.

The imperial family had achieved their purpose by drastically reducing the influence of the Arangis Duchy in the South and imprinting the existence of Ian, who would soon become the crown prince. In addition, the imperial soldiers naturally expanded their influence in the South with the 11th regiment at its center.

The lords were conferred titles by the emperor, and they would pay taxes and tribute to the imperial family. Moreover, imports and exports coming to and from the South would stabilize the economy of both the South and the mainland.

However, if the imperial family’s influence became too strong in the South, it could have led to resistance from the southern and inland port cities. This very issue was what the presence of Duke Pendragon alleviated.

The hero who saved the South.

Also, it was Duke Pendragon who set the delicate balance of power in the South with the independent kingdom of Valvas at the forefront, maintaining harmony between the imperial family and the South. Eventually, the buffer zone created from the four regions could serve as a strong shield to protect the empire from other threats, while also doubling as a dagger held under the jaw of the Aragon Imperial family. Naturally, no one would leave themselves defenseless against a sharp blade that could turn against them at any time.

However, the imperial family had no choice but to tolerate the current situation. The next emperor, Prince Ian, would take Duke Pendragon’s younger sister, Irene Pendragon, as his wife and empress.

“Right now, Leus is facing an unprecedented boom. Thanks to the lord’s expedition, the inland sea has become safer, and the number of trade ships entering the port has increased exponentially.”

“But there is no reason to force their paths toward York Town?”

“Yes. Leus is a geographical and economic hub of the imperial family. The fact that the emperor entrusted such a place to the lord itself will be reflected as an act of great trust from the outside. You must never act to betray such trust. However…”

Raven continued Vincent’s words.

“I can choose someone trusted as my successor and fade out from the scene.”

“Exactly. For example, someone like Viscount Moraine.”

“Hmm.”

Raven nodded. After sharing life and death in the South, Viscount Moraine shared the deepest relationship with Raven among the imperial knights. In addition, the emperor’s confidence in Viscount Moraine was elevated due to his great contribution during the expedition. If Raven, the current Governor-General of Leus, proposed Viscount Moraine as a replacement, the emperor would surely accept.

Having an imperial commander double as a governor-general would not be a big deal, since a precedent existed in El Pasa. No one would openly complain.

The Governor-General of El Pasa possessed high political power. However, unlike his counterpart, Viscount Moraine was a natural born warrior. Although he was a shining figure on the battlefield, he was far from the management of a great port city such as Leus. In the end, even if Viscount Moraine became governor-general, he would rely on his most trusted predecessor, Duke Pendragon, for support and advice. This was Vincent’s plan.

“Remember, my lord. No matter what others say, we, the Pendragon Duchy, are not fighting against the imperial family. And yet, some will definitely try to make it seem that way.”

Vincent continued with a rather serious expression, unlike his usual self.

“There will surely be a group of people planning to drive a wedge between the lord and the imperial family, painting us as the enemies of the empire. The lord must identify them in conjunction with Prince Ian. That is the only way we, the Pendragon Duchy, will be able to leap forward. You will then be able to achieve your purposes as well, my lord.”

“Hmm…”

Raven’s eyes sank coldly.

With the exception of the Arangis Duchy, there were certain candidates who would want to drive a wedge between himself and the Aragon family.

- Count Louvre, whose successor died because of him, and several other high lords.

In addition, it was still unclear whether the Lindegor Duchy, guarded by the angel Seiel, was an enemy or an ally.

But the biggest enemy was someone else.

“Jean Oberon…”

A creature that, apart from Soldrake, was likely the most closely connected to his own destiny. Although Jean Oberon had lost in the Great Forest, Raven was still in the dark as to the figure’s true purpose or origin. But one thing was for sure – Jean Oberon hadn’t given up yet.

“DO not be relieved. The lord may now have to face the entire empire as your enemy. Of course, depending on the circumstances, it may seem like you are falling out with Prince Ian. But even that has to be overcome. Not by me, but by yourself, my lord.”

Vincent bowed his head with all his heart.

What could be done and what had to be done were two separate things. The issues and challenges that would be waiting in the future were things that he could not solve. It was only man, the one among the great lords and the dukes who moved the empire, the one who could discuss the world with the emperor – Duke Pendragon.

“Overcome… You are right. The Arangis Duchy will be just the beginning.”

Now that Ian and the imperial fleet had surrounded Crete, the only choice left for Duke Arangis was surrender. Considering his position as a duke, Duke Arangis would most likely be brought before the emperor to be formally sentenced. As such, he would be transported to Leus.

“That is right. That is where you will take the first step of a new chapter for the Pendragon Duchy.”

Vincent’s voice was full of conviction as he predicted a future that would shake the foundations of the empire.

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